Robert Borden

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"It can hardly be expected that we shall put 400,000 or 500,000 men in the field and willingly accept the position of having no more voice and receiving no more consideration than if we were toy automata." [30]

On October 27, 1918, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George requested Borden to visit Britain for possible peace talks. Borden replied stating, "the press and the people of this country take it for granted that Canada will be represented at the Peace Conference." World War I ended shortly after on November 11, 1918. Borden told his wife, Laura, that "Canada got nothing out of the war except recognition." [2]

Borden attended the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, though boycotted the opening ceremony, protesting at the precedence given to William Lloyd, the prime minister of the much smaller Newfoundland, over Borden. Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the Conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, which perceived such a delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost a far larger proportion of its men compared to the US in the war (although not more in absolute numbers), Canada at least had the right to the representation of a "minor" power. Lloyd George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of separate Canadian, Indian, Australian, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South African delegations. [2] [31] Not only did Borden's persistence allow him to represent Canada in Paris as a nation, it also ensured that each of the dominions could sign the Treaty of Versailles in its own right and receive a separate membership in the League of Nations. Also during the conference, Borden tried to act as an intermediary between the United States and other members of the British Empire delegation, particularly Australia and New Zealand over the issue of the League of Nations Mandate. [32] Borden also discussed with Lloyd George the possibility of Canada taking over the West Indies but no agreement was reached. [33]

On May 6, 1919, Borden issued a memorandum calling for Canada, as a member, to have the right to be elected to the League's council. This proposal was accepted by Lloyd George, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. These three leaders also included Canada's right to contest for election to the governing body of the International Labour Organization. Borden departed Paris on May 11; his Cabinet ministers Charles Doherty and Arthur Sifton signed the Treaty of Versailles on his behalf. [2]

Domestic policies and post-war Canada

Halifax Explosion

Eleven days before Canadians went to the polls in the 1917 election, Canada experienced the largest domestic disaster in its history: the Halifax Explosion that killed nearly 1,800 people. The tragedy occurring in his own hometown, Borden pledged that the government would be "co-operating in every way to reconstruct the Port of Halifax: this was of utmost importance to the Empire". [34] Borden helped set up the Halifax Relief Commission that spent $30 million on medical care, repairing infrastructure, and establishing pensions for injured survivors. [35] [36]

Borden surveying the ruins of the Halifax Explosion Canada's Prime Minister Robert Borden surveys the ruins of the Explosion (24793586598).jpg
Borden surveying the ruins of the Halifax Explosion

Women's suffrage

On May 24, 1918, female citizens 21 and over were granted the right to vote in federal elections. In 1920, Borden's government passed the Dominion Elections Act to allow women to run for the Parliament of Canada. However, these two laws prevented or discouraged Asian Canadian and Indigenous Canadian women and men from voting. [37] [38]

Nickle Resolution

Despite being knighted himself, Borden disapproved of the process by which Canadians were nominated for honours and in March 1917 drafted a policy stating that all names had to be vetted by the prime minister before the list was sent to Westminster. [39] In mid-1917, Borden agreed with MP William Folger Nickle's proposal to abolish Hereditary titles in Canada. In addition to the abolition of the Hereditary titles, it was later learned that with the exception of military distinctions, honours would not be granted to residents of Canada without the approval or the advice of the Canadian prime minister. [2]

Nationalization of railways

On June 6, 1919, through an Order in Council, [40] Borden's government established the Canadian National Railways (CN) as a Crown Corporation. The organization originally consisted of four railways: the Intercolonial Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway, the National Transcontinental Railway, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. In January 1923, a fifth one was added: the Grand Trunk Railway. All five of these railways were financially struggling as a result of their inability to borrow from banks (mainly British) during the First World War. [2] [41]

1919 Winnipeg general strike

After the war, the working class experienced economic hardship. In a bid to address this problem, construction and metal trades workers in Winnipeg, Manitoba sought better wages and better working conditions by negotiating with their managers. In May 1919, as a result of talks between the workers and their managers breaking down, several strikes started; on May 15, the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council (WTLC) called for a general strike as a result of the negotiations collapsing. Within hours of the Winnipeg general strike breaking out, nearly 30,000 workers resigned. [42]

Afraid that the strike would spark conflicts in other cities, Borden's government intervened. His Cabinet ministers Arthur Meighen and Gideon Robertson met with the anti-strike Citizens’ Committee but refused to meet with the pro-strike Central Strike Committee. Taking the advice of the Citizens' Committee, Borden's government threatened to fire federal workers unless they returned to work immediately. The government also changed the Immigration Act to allow the deportation of British-born immigrants. On June 17, the government arrested 10 leaders of the Central Strike Committee and two members of the trade union, One Big Union. On June 21, Borden's government deployed troops from the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) to the strike scene to maintain public order. [43] [44] As a result of the protestors beginning to riot, [45] the NWMP charged at the protestors, beat them with clubs, and fired bullets. Two people were killed and the violent incident became known as "Bloody Saturday". Within days, the strike ended. [2] [46]


With his doctors recommending that he should leave politics immediately, Borden told his cabinet on December 16, 1919, that he was going to resign. Some cabinet members begged him to stay in office and take a year-long vacation. Borden took a vacation for an unspecified amount of time and returned to Ottawa in May 1920. Borden announced his retirement to his Unionist caucus on Dominion Day, July 1, 1920. Before he retired, the caucus asked him to choose his successor as leader and prime minister. Borden favoured his Finance Minister William Thomas White. With White refusing, Borden persuaded cabinet minister Arthur Meighen to succeed him. Meighen succeeded Borden on July 10, 1920. Borden retired from politics altogether in that same month. [2]

After politics (1920–1937)

Borden speaking at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, 1930 Sir Robert Borden speaking at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (50539802973) (cropped).jpg
Borden speaking at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, 1930

As a delegate, Borden attended the 1921–1922 Washington Naval Conference. [47] Borden was the Chancellor of Queen's University from 1924 to 1930. [48] He served as Vice-President of The Champlain Society between 1923 and 1925 and was the Society's first Honorary President between 1925 and 1937. [49] He also served as president of the Canadian Historical Association in 1930–31. [50] In 1928 Borden became president of two financial institutions: Barclays Bank of Canada and the Crown Life Insurance Company. In 1932 he became chairman of Canada's first mutual fund, the Canadian Investment Fund. Even after he stepped down as prime minister, Borden kept in touch with Lloyd George; Borden once told him of his retirement, stating, "There is nothing that oppresses me...books, some business avocation, my wild garden, the birds and the flowers, a little golf, and a great deal of life in the open – these together make up the fullness of my days." [2]

Borden's grave site Robert Laird Borden grave site.jpg
Borden's grave site

Borden died on June 10, 1937, in Ottawa and is buried in the Beechwood Cemetery marked by a simple stone cross. [51] In his funeral, a thousand World War I veterans lined the procession route. [2]


The Borden government's introduction of conscription, new taxes, and use of the North-West Mounted Police to break up the 1919 Winnipeg general strike are all examples of government intervention; with his emphasis on big government, he is remembered as a Red Tory. [52] The Canadian War Museum wrote, "The pressures of war drove Borden’s government to unprecedented levels of involvement in the day-to-day lives of citizens." [53]

Statue on Parliament Hill, Ottawa Robert Borden, statue.jpg
Statue on Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Borden's use of conscription in the war remains controversial. While historian J. L. Granatstein wrote, "Canada's military couldn't have carried on without the controversial policy" and that "[The conscripts] played a critical role in winning the war", he also wrote that "To achieve these ends, he almost broke the nation." [54] In the 1917 federal election, in what was seen as a backlash against Borden and the Unionist Party's pro-conscription position, Quebec voted overwhelmingly in favour of the anti-conscription Laurier Liberals; the Unionists won only three seats. Historian Robert Craig Brown wrote, "The political cost [of conscription] was enormous: the Conservative Party’s support in Quebec was destroyed and would not be recovered for decades to come." [2]

Borden's opposition towards free trade and his government's reversal of a 1917 campaign promise to exempt the sons of farmers from conscription helped the agrarian Progressive Party grow in popularity, which was dissatisfied with Borden's positions on these issues. [55] The Progressive Party was founded by Thomas Crerar, who was Borden's minister of agriculture until 1919, when he resigned over his opposition towards high tariffs and his belief that the government's budget did not pay enough attention to farmer's issues. [56] [57] In the 1921 federal election that saw the Conservatives plummet to third place, the Progressives became the second-largest party and swept Western Canada, a region that Borden's Unionists won over in the election four years previously. As historian Robert Craig Brown notes, "Moreover, Unionist support in western Canada was ephemeral and vanished at the first hints of peace." [2]

In their book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders, J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer include the results of a survey of Canadian historians regarding all the Prime Ministers through Jean Chrétien. Borden was ranked 7th.


Supreme Court appointments

Borden chose the following jurists to sit as justices of the Supreme Court of Canada:

Electoral record

See also


  1. Notable Kin - New England in Hollywood, Part Three: The Possible Rhode Island Ancestry of Marilyn Monroe New England Historical Genealogical Society.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 Brown, Robert. "Robert Borden". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  3. Borden, Robert (January 15, 1969). Robert Laird Borden: His Memoirs, Volume 1. p. 3. ISBN   9780773560550 . Retrieved January 27, 2022.
  4. Sir Robert Laird Borden at
  5. Morgan, Henry James, ed. (1903). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto: Williams Briggs. p.  33.
  6. Bélanger, Réal. "Wilfrid Laurier". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  7. "Wilfrid Laurier". The Canadian Encyclopedia . Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  8. Mochoruk, Jim. "Manitoba History: Manitoba Expands Northward: A Special Edition of Manitoba History". Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  9. "Ontario Boundaries Extension Act (Can., 1912)". York University. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  10. "An Act to amend The Manitoba Boundaries Extension Act, 1912, and The Ontario Boundaries Extension Act (Can., 1950)". York University. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  11. James Ciment; Thaddeus Russell (2007). The home front encyclopedia: United States, Britain, and Canada in World Wars I and II. ABC-CLIO. p. 423. ISBN   978-1-57607-849-5.
  12. Smith, Denis (July 25, 2013). "War Measures Act". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  13. War Measures Act, 1914 , SC 1914, c. 2.
  14. "Department of Veterans Affairs fonds [multiple media (some microform)]". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved February 11, 2022. In addition, a publicly-subscribed Canadian Patriotic Fund was organized in August 1914, with responsibilities towards soldiers' families.
  15. Brett, Alexandra; Phillipson, Donald (February 7, 2006). "National Research Council of Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 21, 2022.
  16. "Military Structure - the Canadian Expeditionary Force".
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Granatstein, J.L. "After the fighting, a nation changed". Maclean's. Retrieved February 12, 2022.
  18. Berry, Paul (October 2, 2018). "Canada Financially Comes of Age". Bank of Canada Museum. Retrieved February 12, 2022.
  19. "If some things never change, when did they begin?". Government of Canada. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  20. "Canadian Wheat Board". The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  21. Foot, Richard (August 12, 2015). "Election of 1917". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  22. 1 2 Preston, Richard (February 7, 2006). "Military Service Act". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  23. Foot, Richard (August 12, 2015). "Election of 1917". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  24. "British North America Act, 1916 - Enactment No. 4". Government of Canada. November 3, 1999. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  25. Foot, Richard (August 12, 2015). "Election of 1917". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  26. McIntosh, Andrew; Granatstein, J.l.; Jones, Richard (February 6, 2006). "Conscription in Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  27. McIntosh, Andrew; Granatstein, J.l.; Jones, Richard (February 6, 2006). "Conscription in Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  28. 1 2 "Ukrainian Internment in Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. June 5, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  29. Copp, J. Terry. "Sir Robert Borden". Britannica. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  30. Roberts, Priscilla; Tucker, Spencer (2005). World War I: A Student Encyclopedia. p. 2372. ISBN   9781851098798 . Retrieved February 21, 2022.
  31. MacMillan p.71
  32. MacMillan p.107–114
  33. Denton, Herbert (May 29, 1987). "CANADA HEARS SIREN CALL OF ISLANDS IN THE SUN". WaPo. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  34. Armstrong 2002, p. 99.
  35. Bundale, Brett (December 1, 2017). "The silence after the blast: How the Halifax Explosion was nearly forgotten". CTV News. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  36. Cahill, Barry (September 2018). "The Halifax Relief Commission (1918-1976): Its History, Historiography, and Place in Halifax Disaster Scholarship". Acadiensis. 47 (2): 93–110. doi:10.1353/aca.2018.0020. S2CID   150251731 . Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  37. "Extending the Vote". CBC. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  38. Strong-Boag, Veronica (June 21, 2016). "Women's Suffrage in Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  39. McCreery 2005 , p. 37
  40. "OIC 1918-3122: Canadian National Railways - Board of Directors of the Canadian Northern Railway to use this collection designation as description of the Canadian Northern and Canadian Government Railway systems without prejudice". Privy Council of Canada. December 20, 1918.
  41. Tucker, Albert (March 25, 2009). "Canadian National Railway (CN)". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 22, 2022.
  42. Reilly, J. Nolan (February 7, 2006). "Winnipeg General Strike of 1919". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  43. Reilly, J. Nolan (February 7, 2006). "Winnipeg General Strike of 1919". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  44. Bercuson 1990 , pp. 168–169
  45. Bercuson 2009 , p. 26
  46. Reilly, J. Nolan (February 7, 2006). "Winnipeg General Strike of 1919". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  47. Copp, J. Terry. "Sir Robert Borden". Britannica. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  48. "Borden, Sir Robert Laird | Queen's Encyclopedia". Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  49. The Champlain Society. "Former Officers of the Champlain Society (1905–2012)". Archived from the original on October 27, 2014. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  50. "CHA Presidents and Presidential Addresses". Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  51. Heritage Recording Services (December 20, 2010). "The Right Honourable Sir Robert Laird Borden". Former Prime Ministers and Their Grave Sites. Parks Canada. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved January 1, 2015.
  52. Christian, William Edward and C. Campbell, Parties, Leaders and Ideologies in Canada
  53. "Sir Robert Borden". Canadian War Museum. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  54. Granatstein, J.L. (November 5, 2018). "Conscription divided Canada. It also helped win the First World War". Maclean's. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  55. Bradburn, Jamie (September 23, 2019). "Canada's first female MP and the federal election that changed Ontario". TVO. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  56. "Progressive Party of Canada". Marianopolis College. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  57. Russell, Peter (February 7, 2006). "Progressive Party". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  58. "Albany Gateway - Borden". Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved June 30, 2008.


By Sir Robert

Further reading

Robert Borden
Borden-sm (cropped).jpg
Borden in 1918
8th Prime Minister of Canada
In office
October 10, 1911 July 10, 1920
Preceded by Wilfrid Laurier
Succeeded by Arthur Meighen

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